2015 is the Year of the Novel

There is one thing that is so important to me right now that I can hardly stand to be taking the time to write this post. 2015 is “The Year of the Novel” for me. I’m about 70,000 words into the first draft of my first novel, which I started writing in November of 2014.

I don’t have resolutions because I’m already resolved.

Nothing can happen until a book is finished. You can’t publish an unfinished book. You can’t sell an unfinished book. You can’t revise or edit an unfinished book.

So objective number one: finish the damn first draft.

I’m thinking and planning beyond that, but every time I think I should take action on something, I shut it down and command myself to finish the book first. I could get lost in learning all about this or that or some other thing. Book marketing. How to best publish. How to query or get an agent.

No, no, no.

Finish. The. Book.

This is a landmark for me, just as winning NaNoWriMo was a landmark. This is the next logical goal. My personal deadline for finishing the first draft is my birthday: the 26th of January. It will be a birthday present to myself.

When it’s done, then–and only then–will I tackle what comes next, which is revising and rewriting. I’m writing this first draft in a fast and sloppy manner, just to get it done, to not jam myself up with over-thinking. If I stop the ground will turn to quicksand, have to keep going. I’ll spend some time educating myself about revising and rewriting to get some distance on the text, but not too long.

I have no idea how long multiple revisions will take, but after that I’ll start looking into what needs to happen next, because at this point I’m not sure. Editing? Looking for an agent? Submit to publishers? Self-publish? I’m a total noob about this stuff and not even worried about it right now.

And if by some chance everything that can be done for this first novel happens to get done this year, then it’s on to the next book.

Happy New Year, everyone!


I Won NaNoWriMo – Hooray! (And So What)

This was the first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, and I completed my 50,000 words in 30 days. I have two simultaneous reactions to this accomplishment: Hooray! and So what.

Lemme ‘splain.

The Hooray Part

I did it, and that’s something. That’s worth a cheer. Do you have any idea how many millions of people in the world think: I should write a book, someday? Me, neither, but holy shit. it’s probably up there with white people who have opinions about Ferguson.

Next, think of all the people who have at least started to write something, but never finished. That’s a much smaller group. Again, we have no idea about real numbers, here. Perhaps it would be generous to guess it’s only a few million souls.

Now, we’re down to the number of people who have tried to write a novel, and used NaNoWriMo as a way to accomplish that goal: a smaller number of people, no question. Last year, only 310,095 participants won (hit 50,000 words in 30 days).

There were plenty of times during the past 30 days I didn’t want to write. There were days when I wanted to quit. The way I tend to sabotage myself is to wait until the brink of success and then develop some kind of problem or just mentally check out. I know myself well. I also know others do this, too, and when you see it in another person, it’s so much more obvious. I made myself more aware of this by watching episodes of Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen. The denial and mysteriously badly-timed problems on these shows were painfully obvious to me.

And yet I still managed to pull a psychosomatic fast one: during the last week and a half of NaNo, I got sick. My brain turned to oatmeal. I was too tired to write, but then when I laid down, my mind would race and my body’s sensations would get all confused (I call that “sickesthesia”) and I just couldn’t sleep. Plus sinus pain, headache, and a rough cough.

There actually were a couple days when I wrote nothing. The next day, instead of writing 1,667 words, I had to write 3,334 words. Except I couldn’t do that, either, and so I had to continue playing catch-up day-by-day. Thankfully, I got over it just in time to finish and win, writing over 3,000 a day for the last several days.

Despite my divided self trying to both succeed and fail simultaneously, the light side of the Force managed to outshine the dark. Even when I wasn’t sick, what would often happen is I’d be writing and I’d feel tired and sleepy. Sometimes, I gave in and really took a nap. I wanted to be up later after everyone else was in bed so I get more done.

Mostly, it was just psychosomatic resistance. When I played online games addictively, I would also get tired, and yet, most of the time, I managed to power through and keep playing. Why? Because I loved it and I was motivated. If I could do it for Guild Wars 2, why couldn’t I do it for my first novel?

The biggest bonus of winning NaNo was simply proving to myself that I could do it, because once that threshold is crossed, there’s no going back. There’s no more wishing, no more wondering, now there is only the doing, and that leads me to the “So What” part.

The So What Part

I did it, I proved I could do it.

Well, so what?

I didn’t do anything that writers don’t already do every day, and without the Dumbo’s magic feather of NaNoWriMo. Now that I’ve set the bar at this level, I couldn’t live with myself if I ever go below it, again. There will come a time when my life as a writer will be more than just pumping out at least 1667 words every day. There will be, in addition to writing the new stuff, revising and editing the old stuff. Publishers and agents will be sought. Setting up on Amazon or whatever will need to happen . I haven’t even thought about this stuff, yet, because all I want to do right now is finish one book, and everything else is distraction.

I wrote 50,000 words.

So what.

The average fantasy novel has over 197,000 words.

I have three more NaNoWriMos to go before I even have a first draft anywhere near that territory.

Not that hitting a certain word count is the goal–believe me, it’s not. But I don’t think you can call yourself serious about what you do without awareness and context for your work. And even though I did write 50,000 words in 30 days, and that’s the only requirement for winning NaNoWriMo, I’m barely a third of the way into the story events and plot.

There is much more to do before I even have a finished first draft.

The ultimate lesson is that now, every day is NaNoWriMo.

Strong Characters Make for a Strong Plot: 8 Changes in My Story

Until you try to do something like this, yourself, you have no idea how many and how deep are the changes made to a story before it’s “final.” Here is a list of eight ways my story changed from its original conception until now:

  1. The novel was going to have a male “everyman” protagonist
  2. I had the President of the United States as a viewpoint character
  3. I added a prologue (that’s where the President was)
  4. I added a “G-man” to the story as a viewpoint character
  5. Changed the protagonist to the woman instead of my “everyman.”
  6. Dropped the prologue and eliminated the President as a viewpoint character, deciding these events would best be told in retrospect by the G-man character
  7. Elevated the G-man character to a main character romantic role in the story and eliminated the everyman altogether
  8. Brought back the everyman but now he’s not an everyman, he’s elevated to main character and part of love triangle with the woman and the G-man.

As I’ve come across writing advice, I noticed that the collective wisdom about everyman characters was consistently against them. I liked my character because he felt real and realistic to me, so I was in denial.

Plot problems are character problems

But when I kept trying to figure out what my plot problem was, it finally dawned on me I didn’t have a plot problem: I had a character problem. My protagonist was boring and uninteresting. Nobody would care about him. I took him out of the story entirely, and made the woman the protagonist instead. She was already a much more interesting character for many reasons, from her past, the way she looked and dressed, and because of a unique, unidentifiable chronic condition.

But then the boy-meets-girl aspect of the story lacked tension. It would be juicier if there was a second love interest for the protagonist to deal with. Some examples you’d be familiar with would be Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Or Gale, Peeta, and Katniss. Or Luke, Han, and Leia. From Lev Grossman’s Magician trilogy (which I loved), you have Quentin, Julia, and Alice.

So I brought back my everyman character, but I found a way to make him much more interesting and vital to the story and he is no longer an everyman. He’s back to being a viewpoint character. What he does and how he operates in the story is very different now from my original conception, but it’s tighter and improved.

This is not to say that all plot problems masquerade as character problems. Not at all. I’m just saying that in this particular story I’m writing, weak characters led to a weak plot and I made efforts to fix it.

Have you ever found your plot changing or improving after you change the characters?

photo credit: Hegemony77 doll clothes via photopin cc

Book Review: Prince Lestat, by Anne Rice

I was eager for this book to come out when I’d first heard the announcement months ago. When I was in high school, I discovered Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles. Someone had forgotten their copy of The Vampire Lestat. It was under my desk in social studies. I picked it up and began reading and forgot everything else around me. I didn’t care about homework or what Mr. Reggie was saying. And I absolutely did not care about the previous owner of that book! It was mine, now. Finders keepers. I was smitten with this amazing world of power and guilt and existential struggle.

I loved the mythos Rice created. I devoured the other vampire books, too, but only up to a point. I’d read up to Queen of the Damned. I’d read Tale of the Body Thief, and that one snapped me.

I thought it was egregiously self-indulgent. I wanted to slap Lestat in the face. I had had enough of Anne Rice’s vampires. I never read Memnoch the Devil, nor any of the others.

After all these years, and a return to Christianity by Rice, resulting in books about the life of Christ Himself (which I kind of want to read, now, to be honest), Rice has returned to the world of the blood drinkers in Prince Lestat.

Unfortunately, it was a disappointment.

Perhaps Rice is too huge an author, now, and too much a diva to work with, or her editors are too weak-willed or unskilled or both. I don’t know. There’s still raw talent there: I pretty much read it nonstop over the course of two days, and there were some fascinating ideas in it. There were few excellent scenes, however. Thankfully, the best one is near the climax of the story. That’s all I can say without spoiling anything.

But overall, the book is self-indulgent to the point of being masturbatory. Lestat has become a Mary Sue character who can do no wrong and who suffers no consequences. More importantly, and worse, no one else suffers for his mistakes, either, or if they do, all is forgiven in the end. It’s like an 80’s sitcom where everybody wags their finger, laughs, and says “Oh, you!”

Not once do you ever feel afraid for Lestat’s life. Not once does he ever seem to be in serious danger. And you know what the ending is going to be, it’s obvious, and, frankly, it’s boring. I don’t want to spoil it, but she had a chance to put the life of every single vampire at risk. There could’ve been a moment when all of vampiric existence could’ve been in serious doubt.

And she blew it. Like I said, the story felt like it was without risk.

And one more thing: the very thing that all the other vampires in the story wanted Lestat to be? Their prince? Especially the kind of prince he turns out to be?

That’s exactly the kind of person the Lestat I knew would never become. He would rebel against such a thing.

You don’t make a rock star into an administrator.

photo credit: izarbeltza via photopin cc

Help! My Writing is BORING

The more I write, the more I come to understand my biggest problem: boring writing. I’m not being overly critical, I’m just getting better at figuring out what my writing needs to improve. People think of writing as putting words together into sentences and having an exceptional vocabulary. At a much higher level, though, it’s what those sentences are trying to accomplish as a whole that matters.

How My Novel Was Boring and What I’m Doing About It

At first, my novel had an “everyman” as a main character, because I was trying to write what I knew. Well, for a fantasy novel, that’s not very fantastic.

Everyman characters are boring.

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